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Nearly 400 Former Federal Prosecutors Have Signed A Statement Saying That President Trump Would Have Been Charged With Obstruction Of Justice Had He Not Been President Of United States; Former Trump Attorney Michael Cohen Is Now Officially A Federal Inmate; The President Is Facing Headwinds In Negotiations With China. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired May 6, 2019 - 14:00   ET


RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: We're being told that this deployment is in response to that threat, Alex.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All right, Ryan Browne at the Pentagon. Thanks very much. And that does it for me, "NEWSROOM" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Alex, thank you so much. Hi, everyone. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me on this Monday afternoon. I want to get you straight to this major breaking development involving the Mueller report just hours after the Attorney General missed a deadline to turn in redacted portions to Congress, we are now learning have a remarkable reaction to this report.

The numbers are still coming in, now nearly 400 former Federal prosecutors have signed this statement saying that President Trump would have been charged with obstruction of justice had he not been President of United States. They write quote, "Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice."

Melissa Murray is a Professor at NYU School of Law and she's with me here in New York. Laura Jarrett is our senior justice reporter there in Washington.

And Laura, let me just start with you, because again, you know, this isn't one or two people. And this isn't just Democrats, right? This is left, right and 370 plus.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right, Brooke. It's really a bipartisan group of former U.S. attorneys, high-level officials, some now members of the defense power, but they are in uniform agreement that if the President was any other defendant, he would be charged in their view, with obstruction of justice. They essentially say these aren't even close -- this isn't even a close call.

And the reason they say that is they look at one, the President's axe -- and all this is according to the Mueller report -- the President's axe in trying to curtail the probe; two, how he tried to fire the Special Counsel; and three, how he tried to prevent other witnesses from cooperating in the investigation.

And, and so it's really a remarkable group not only as you pointed out for its size, but also these are people in the Reagan administration, the Bush administration. So it really is casting a wide net, Brooke.

BALDWIN: What do you think, Melissa? This letter and all these signatures?

MELISSA MURRAY, PROFESSOR, NYU SCHOOL OF LAW: Remarkable is the right word for it. So they are uniform in their agreement. They are actually saying something that former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said a couple of weeks ago when she, too, said that were this any other person and not a sitting President, she would have prosecuted for obstruction of justice, like there was plenty to bring charges here.

And so they all have lined up. And it's not just the Bush administration. It's not just the Reagan administration. This is a group of career prosecutors and DOJ alumni that go all the way back to the Eisenhower administration.

BALDWIN: And when you go through -- you and I have read this letter -- they cite the numerous attempts to fire Mueller in creating this false evidence, and at the very end, this is their conclusion, "As former Federal prosecutors, we recognize that prosecuting obstruction of justice cases is critical, because unchecked obstruction, which allows intentional interference with criminal investigation to go and punished puts our whole justice system at risk."

Right, so when I read that -- that was that was a "wow" for me, but at the same time, you know, unless Congress does something, I read this, and I think, so now what?

MURRAY: Well, so now what? I mean, again, it does kick the ball into Congress' court. And I think that's what the Mueller report set up to do. Special Counsel Mueller was very clear that he wasn't saying there was no obstruction of justice, but that he couldn't, given the OLC guidance actually bring charges against a sitting President, and that then punted it to Congress to take steps. So really the ball is in Congress' court now.

BALDWIN: Did you get the sense from these former Federal prosecutors that they're essentially saying that the President is above the law?

MURRAY: I think they're saying exactly the opposite that something here is really amiss. This is not the usual course of business. The last paragraph where as you say, they talk about the importance of dealing with obstruction of justice to have a functioning working justice system is really pivotal. The whole idea here is that something has to be done. It's not enough to just say that this is a President, we can't do anything. There has to be a remedy for a slight like this against the entire system. BALDWIN: Stay with me. I want to come back to you on the A.G. here

in just a second. But let me just set this up. And Laura, thanks to you as well. There wasn't just one, but two big big deadlines today for the Trump administration.

As I mentioned earlier, the Attorney General did not comply with House Democrats 9:00 a.m. deadline to turn over Special Counsel Robert Mueller's full un-redacted report. Also a source says Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is expected for a third time to miss a deadline to hand over the President's tax returns.

This is all escalating stalemate between the President and House Democrats now to a dramatic new level. For the first time, they are moving to punish a Trump administration official, Attorney General Bill Barr for defying a subpoena. The House Judiciary Committee just scheduled a vote for Wednesday to hold Barr in contempt of Congress.

So for that, let's go to CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill. And we'll talk about that just a second. But you have some breaking details on the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Lindsey Graham, what do you have?

[14:05:07] MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I just caught up with him here in the Senate and he told me that he's willing to see the Special Counsel Robert Mueller testify in public before his committee to talk about any dispute that he had with the Attorney General's testimony, about their phone call -- the phone call that the Attorney General said last week occurred after the release of Barr's four-page letter that we saw later. Mueller released a letter -- sent a letter to him disputing -- raising concerns about how Barr had characterized that.

Now, when Barr testified last week, he said they had a phone call, and that really the concern that Mueller had was not necessarily about anything in the letter. He said he just wanted more context out. And he was -- Mueller was concerned about the media portrayal of the four- page letter. Now, that's how Barr characterize it.

On Friday, Lindsey Graham sent a letter to Mueller and said, if you want to provide any testimony to my committee about that phone call, you're welcome to do so. Now the question have been whether or not Lindsey Graham would be open to having Mueller come in public before the Senate Judiciary Committee because he has opposed having any public hearing.

But just moments ago, Graham told me, "Yes, he is perfectly fine with Bob Mueller sitting before his committee have a testimony specifically about that phone call." Not about everything else in the Mueller report, but about that phone call. So he said he is open to that. He has not yet heard back from Mueller, but interesting opening here by Lindsey Graham to potentially hear the Special Counsel and his committee, these House Democrats are moving to get Mueller in their Committee -- before the House Judiciary Committee, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yes, so that is super significant from Republican Lindsey Graham. Manu, thank you. And, Melissa, back to you on all of this. Like we remember, after this whole thing had come out, you know, the Trump's word was exonerate, right? He felt like the Mueller report exonerates him and he has pulled this whole 180 on whether or not he wants Mueller testify and if he feel is this report exonerates him, why not let the man testify?

MURRAY: Well, that is the question. If this is so clear and cut and dry, you would want the man who wrote it to come in and testify that he indeed he had exonerated him, but we know from reading the Mueller report that the report did no such thing.

Robert Mueller was very clear that if there had been evidence to exonerate the President, he would have said so, and instead what he did was outline 12 cases of obstruction of justice -- potential obstruction of justice. So this isn't a cut and dry case. And it seems obvious that the last thing the President wants to do is have Robert Mueller come to Congress and specify his claims.

BALDWIN: Yes, maybe there's this opening with Lindsey Graham, we watch, we wait. Now this letter with all these former Federal prosecutors, what does Congress do, Melissa?

MURRAY: Well, Congress is probably going to try and negotiate with the DOJ, but the DOJ wants no part of this. They don't want to see Robert Mueller and they don't want to see Barr being questioned by Senate staffers or congressional staffers. So what we're probably going to see is this going to the courts, and that will be a long and protracted fight.

BALDWIN: Okay, Melissa, great to have you and thank you so much.

MURRAY: Thanks for having me.

BALDWIN: Now, to this, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen is now officially a Federal inmate. Just a few hours ago, the longtime lawyer and fixer for Donald Trump arrived at the Otisville Federal Correctional Institution about 80 miles north of New York City.

Cohen will now serve a three-year sentence for tax evasion, making false statements to Congress and campaign finance violations tied to hush money payments he made or orchestrated on behalf of President Trump.

Before leaving his Manhattan digs this morning, Cohen appeared to take a couple of shots at the man he wants said he would take a bullet for.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY TO DONALD TRUMP: I hope that when I rejoin my family and friends that the country will be in a place without xenophobia, injustice, and lies at the helm of our country. There still remains much to be told and I look forward to the day that I can share the truth, and thank you all very much.


BALDWIN: Jack Donson worked at the Otisville Federal Correctional Institute where Cohen will live for the next 1,095 days. He is now retired from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a pleasure to have you through. So today is the day. The man is, you know, up in Otisville and can you just -- what does the first 24 hours of his life up there look like?

JACK DONSON, WORKED AT OTISVILLE FEDERAL CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTE: The first 24 hours are basically a fog. No matter how prepared you are for the event, it's probably the most stressful time he is going to have other than the actual sentencing. So he will walk around in a daze all day long.

BALDWIN: What will he do in the fog? Who will he meet? Does he --

DONSON: He will do what he is told. He will be counted five times in 24 hours. He will go to bed when he is told. He will wake up when he is told. He will stand in line like everybody else to eat and he'll just be another eight digit number.

BALDWIN: And now what I've read about Otisville and I think "Forbes" had said it was one of the top 10 cushiest prisons in America. You're shaking your head at me. Not so cushy?

DONSON: There is no such thing as a cushy prison.

BALDWIN: So not --

DONSON: There is no such thing as Club Fed. It's a demeaning experience. He'll sleep in a bunk bed and it'll be noisy and the officers will be jingling keys all night long and it won't really be dark.

[14:10:10] DONSON: And, you know, people will try to track his movements and send word out to the media. He is a high profile person. He has a lot of challenges the average person would not have in that closed environment.

BALDWIN: Will he be sharing the cell with anyone?

DONSON: He will be -- it's cubicles. So cinderblock cubicles, three sides, a bunk bed. Yes, for sure. They'll go first to a dorm with approximately 20 people in a more crowded situation until he gets an actual cell because of the crowding at the Otisville camp.

BALDWIN: What does he do all day?

DONSON: At first, you do nothing all day, because you have to get medically cleared before you start working. And so that's what I mean. Those first few days wandering around --

BALDWIN: Working. Define working.

DONSON: Everybody works, different jobs. He is eventually going to have to work. He might get a kitchen job. He might get a landscape job. It's basically a work camp for the main facility that's inside.

BALDWIN: Not only is he this high profile inmate, he worked for the President. But you know, he turned on Trump. The President himself at one point on Twitter, called him a rat.


BALDWIN: Does he have a target on his back? Or is he the kind of guy that these inmates want to be buddies with?

DONSON: Listen, it's both to be honest with you, you know, he's going to have a target on his back to a point because nobody likes informants in prison. However, you have to consider the environment and in a minimum security camp, the people have no propensity for violence. So he doesn't have to worry about those internal kind of things other than maybe a little bit of comments and ostracization. You know, nothing serious.

I don't believe it's a good fit for him being so close to New York City major media, because it's not really a secure place for people coming to the prison.

BALDWIN: What do you mean?

DONSON: You could walk -- anybody who has been to Otisville over the years serving time or visiting. Thousands of people know that you park in a parking lot, you get out, you walk past the living quarters where the inmates are right in plain view. You walk into the visiting room past all the current visitors and that's the first time your ID'd. So a paparazzi could literally get an iPhone walk right through all the way to a point where they finally get ID'd and then turned away because they're not on a list.

BALDWIN: I don't want to give anyone any ideas. But I bet you they already have scoped out the joint as I am sure.

DONSON: Oh people know. There are people bragging on this already.

BALDWIN: I am sure.

DONSON: So it's not a good fit.

BALDWIN: Jack Donson, thank you so much. Appreciate it. The President facing major foreign policy crises right this very moment, including a quote, "specific incredible threat from Iran." Why the U.S. is deploying bombers and warships? Plus the Dow is pushing its way back up after dropping 450 points of the open after President Trump's terror threats against China. Are trade talks crumbling? You're watching CNN, I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:17:41] BALDWIN: We are back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. And in just in the past 48 hours, we've seen a preview of the global challenges and chaos the President will face this summer. First up, the U.S. deploying this Aircraft Carrier Strike Group and Air Force bombers to the Middle East.

U.S. officials tell CNN that the U.S. intercepted quote, "specific and credible Intelligence that Iranian forces and proxies were targeting forces in Syria, Iraq, and at sea," after National Security adviser, John Bolton says the development sends quote, "a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force."

To be clear here. There is no indication that any action by Iran is imminent. But we'll talk more about this in just a sec. The President is also facing headwinds in negotiations with China, a global sell-off in the markets today. You could see for yourself, this hour, as traders react to the President's renewed threat of even more tariffs if there is no breakthrough in trade talks which were said to be going well.

The Trump administration is also addressing a deadly weekend in Israel where hundreds of rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel. A ceasefire appears to be holding for now. All of this is happening as CNN has exclusive new satellite images that show North Korea's leading missile launch, its first since 2017.

And you can see in the middle of the screen there, the smoke trail following the rocket which experts say indicates a short range ballistic missile. And Venezuela still in crisis. Opposition leader Juan Guaido is calling on supporters to continue those protests despite the failure to trigger a military uprising.

The President's chief diplomat, Mike Pompeo is meeting with his Russian counterpart in Finland, where they have butted heads over who actually belongs in power. Secretary Pompeo says he doesn't rule out the possibility of military action there.

So this little global context for you, but I want to talk more about the Carrier Strike Group being sent to the Middle East. Secretary Pompeo just spoke about this a moment ago.


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We have continued to see activity that leads us to believe that there's escalation that may be taking place. And so we're taking all the appropriate actions both from a security perspective as well as our ability to make sure that the President has a wide range of options in the event that something should actually take place.


[14:25:06] BALDWIN: CNN Global Affairs Analyst, Jason Rezaian, spent a year and a half in prison in Iran before his release in 2016. He is an opinion writer for "The Washington Post." So Jason, a pleasure as always.

CNN has this new reporting that the threats were targeting, as I mentioned, U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq, and at sea, and just with all of your knowledge of the region, can you just put in a context for us why those forces in particular would be targeted?

JASON REZAIAN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I think if we were to just take this development on its own, Brooke, as a one off sort of thing, it would be a bit confusing. It doesn't seem like Iran is doing anything different than it's been doing for years.


REZAIAN: But when we look at it as part of the policy of maximum pressure that the State Department and Trump administration have been talking about in recent months, it makes a little bit more sense. The Iranian regime is sort of being boxed in from all angles.

On the one side, you have economic sanctions that are affecting the oil industry; on the other, you have a ratcheting up of American military presence in the neighborhood. So I think this is all designed to send a message as the State Department said to Iran, but what that message is, is kind of unclear.

BALDWIN: Okay. Let's talk about the messenger, because a source also tells CNN that the deployment is largely a warning and a gesture and all of this Jason, came from John Bolton, the National Security adviser rather than DoD, from the Pentagon. And my question to you is, why would this news come from Ambassador Bolton?

REZAIAN: Well, this is a great question I've been asking myself and others in the last couple of days. It seems to me that Ambassador Bolton, for a number of years, has wanted to see a confrontation with Iran -- military confrontation.

We've seen it before in his conversations about Iraq. More recently, regarding Venezuela. Iran and a fight with Iran seems to be the thing that Mr. Bolton has been stealing himself for years.

BALDWIN: So something that he wanted, so the message comes from him. I want to ask you quickly about North Korea, because speaking of Secretary Pompeo, he was asked about, you know, some stunning reports coming out of the region, and that after that Hanoi Summit, several of the nuclear negotiators, North Koreans who Secretary Pompeo himself had been negotiating with may have been executed by Kim Jong-un. Watch the clip.


JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Do we believe those reports are accurate?

POMPEO: Jonathan, I don't have anything to add to that for you this morning.

KARL: But there's seems to have been some kind of a shakeup of his team over there.

POMPEO: It does appear that the next time we have serious conversations that my counterpart will be someone else, but we don't know that for sure just as President Trump gets to decide who his negotiators will be, Chairman Kim will get to make his own decisions about who he asks to have these conversations.


BALDWIN: Jason, much has been made about what people are referring to -- I see you shaking your head. The smirk. The smirk from the Secretary of State.

REZAIAN: It's incredibly chilling to think that the negotiators might have been executed. We've been hearing for the past several months that we're on the right path with North Korea. President Trump tweeted over the weekend that a deal was in sight and he knows that he can get it with his dear friend, Kim Jong-un. But the real face of that regime is obvious to everybody. It's a murderous dictatorship that has brutalized its own people for decades. And to think that we'd be negotiating with them in earnest is a scary thought.

BALDWIN: Jason Rezaian, you are excellent. Thank you so much.

REZAIAN: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: We mentioned China a second ago, you know, things were looking up for America's trade talks. But then the threat from President Trump sent world markets falling. What's happening? Also, there is a new royal baby today. But don't expect all the usual fuss and tradition. How Meghan and Prince Harry are breaking all the rules.


[14:28:21] BALDWIN: World markets feeling rattled today as President Trump threatens to escalate a trade war with China. Right now, the Dow is down more than 150 points that is after opening down more than 450. The market plunge is a response to President Trump's tweets over the weekend threatening to hike a 10 percent tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods all the way up to 25 percent.

And he doubled down today tweeting that, "The United States has been losing for many years. Sorry, we're not going to be doing that anymore." The President's threats here come as U.S. and Chinese negotiators are preparing to resume critical trade talks this week. And if these two sides cannot reach agreement by this Thursday, President Trump is threatening to impose the new tariffs by Friday.

Wendy Cutler is a former U.S. trade diplomat and is the Vice President of the Asia Society Policy Institute. So Wendy, thank you so much for being with me. What would have pushed Trump to do this, this late in the game?

WENDY CUTLER, FORMER ACTING DEPUTY U.S. TRADE REPRESENTATIVE: Well, we're at the endgame of the talks. And there are a lot of -- there's still a handful of really delicate issues on the table and he is worried about getting some domestic criticism on this deal. So why not use the one tactic that's worked for him so well so far in this negotiation, and that is threatening tariff increases?

BALDWIN: But with the threats? I mean, China knows how Trump rolls. Do you think any of this is going to make China flinch? CUTLER: I think China is now in a box. Do they try and you know,

satisfy Trump's demands? And can they even satisfy Trump's demands? But clearly China has an interest in solving this issue. The U.S. has an interest in solving this issue. Both sides have made a lot of progress on many issues. And a lot of this frankly, is just endgame drama in a negotiation.

BALDWIN: Let's hope so.